A CENTURIES old tradition near Stroud was celebrated on the Rodborough and Minchinhampton Commons last Sunday.

Marking day, which is always held on 13 May, is the date on or after which graziers can release their cattle to roam the ancient common grasslands for the summer.

The day takes its name from when the cows were brought from their home farms to a pound at the Old Lodge on Minchinhampton Common to be “marked” with identifying ear tags, or more historically with a branding iron, before they were freed.

Last Sunday volunteers from a number of wildlife and conservation charities set up their stalls in the popular Old Lodge pub garden and held a free information day to highlight the importance of the cattle to the biodiversity of the commons.

Grazing is essential to the management of the beloved hilltop open spaces, without it scrubby woodland could begin to encroach, and rare wildlife habitats would be destroyed.

As part of the day there were guided walks, talks, and a film which highlighted the importance of both commons’ archaeology, and it also explained more about the rare wild flowers, butterflies and birds that can be found there.

Ecologist Dave Simcox was on hand to explain his wildlife surveys of the commons, environmental charity the Stroud Valleys Project attended, as well as Back from the Brink project, an organisation which works to save threatened species from extinction.

Modern traffic across the unfenced commons has, however, caused some conflict with cattle in recent years and motorists are warned to be aware that cattle will be back on the commons.

Campaigners have increased their road safety efforts and this summer a new vehicle activated sign is set to warn motorists to slow down to avoid the cows.

The sign was funded for Minchinhampton Parish Council by Gloucestershire police and crime commissioner Martin Surl.

Additional road signs have also been put in place across the commons to remind drivers of the cows' presence and remind drivers to slow down.